Next Steps for the Irish Bioeconomy: Supply, Demand, Business and Research Considerations
As the bioeconomy continues to gain traction and take form internationally, deciding appropriate development pathways and next steps for its achievement in Ireland is increasingly important. This is the topic of conversation at the final dissemination event of the BioÉire project, taking place today, Monday, 20 March in the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Ashtown.
BioÉire was launched in April 2015, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to provide part of the knowledge base necessary to develop a national bioeconomy strategy for Ireland. The project was led by Teagasc, with partners across UCD, DIT and tcbb RESOURCE. For Dr. Maeve Henchion, Principal Investigator on BioÉire, today’s event marks the end of a high impact two-year desk study: “We are pleased to launch the results of our research at this event, taking stock of the current status of the Irish bioeconomy and, importantly, highlighting next steps for its development. Harnessing our abundant natural resource base and innovative technological capacity represents natural strengths for Ireland in availing of the significant market opportunities that exist within the bioeconomy and also in helping us to move towards a more sustainable economic future”.
All project partners of the BioÉire team will present at the event, in addition to speakers from appropriate policy, research and industry backgrounds. Symptomatic of the diverse nature of the bioeconomy and the complexities involved in its development, topics to be discussed include the impact of regulation on the availability of biomass feedstock, the international bioeconomy market landscape, the role of local authorities in developing regional bioeconomy clusters, support frameworks required to develop the business case, and funding opportunities that hold the potential to connect bioeconomy businesses and researchers.
Dr Laura Devaney, who has been working on the BioÉire project with Teagasc for the past two years, will also present the results of an extensive online stakeholder survey that assessed the most promising value chain opportunities for the Irish bioeconomy and identified some starting principles for its development. Speaking of the study, Dr. Devaney said: “The bioeconomy offers exciting opportunities for Ireland with potential for environmental, economic and social benefit if developed under the correct conditions. We engaged over 75 bioeconomy experts in the BioÉire survey with results highlighting opportunities for biobased food, feed, chemical, fuel and fibre applications from both purpose grown biomass and processing side streams along with a number of necessary support frameworks and conditions for holistic and sustainable bioeconomy development”.
Having spent some years pioneering state-funded collaborations of industry, university-based research groups and government policy-makers to highlight bioeconomy opportunities for Ireland, tcbb RESOURCE Managing Director, Bart Bonsall, involved in BioÉire since project concept stage, remarked: “This is a milestone moment in providing a formalised and specialised body of valuable bioeconomy know-how to the State on opportunities for Ireland. Where there are technologies already proven in other European Union countries, we can look to adapt and demonstrate some of those in Irish conditions. We in tcbb RESOURCE, with EU Interreg NWE support, have built a network of partners in BioBase4SME that is ready to assist. Equally, there are collaborations of research and enterprise in Ireland that wish to demonstrate their own bio-based innovations in test-bed conditions here and abroad –the BioÉire results’ launch will give them confidence that the State is alert to the potential”.
Setting the bigger picture context at the event, Dr. Jim Philp, Policy Analyst in the Science and Technology Policy Division at the OECD, will highlight the growing bioeconomy momentum worldwide and the unique positioning of Ireland in this context. Speaking in advance of the event, Dr. Philp commented: “Ireland is well on track to developing a sustainable bioeconomy, with strong research, skills and training capacities already in place. The importance of regional bioeconomy development must not be underestimated moving forward, including the role of regional policies, model demonstrator regions and connected industry networks. The bioeconomy, including the agri-food sector, is a significant part of the Irish economy. Its long term competitiveness and sustainability should now be a priority concern for national policy”.
Anthony Fitzgerald, Tipperary County Council, will also speak at the event and has an active role in both the development of a model demonstrator region in Tipperary and serves on the newly established Bioeconomy Industry Association. In keeping with his presentation, Mr. Fitzgerald commented: “I am delighted to be involved in the development of a high value regional bioeconomy cluster in Ireland and share my experiences at the final BioÉire dissemination event. The bioeconomy can contribute to both industrial growth and rural development in Ireland, bringing actors together across public, private and academic fields. County councils can play a pivotal role in establishing these relationships working towards developing a high value rural bioeconomy”.
The results of BioÉire represent one of the first steps in developing an evidence-based bioeconomy policy in Ireland, and indeed results have already gained traction with the Department of the Taoiseach. This interaction culminated in a collaborative design thinking workshop held in February 2017, some results of which will also be presented at the event. Workshop results will also be discussed at a later stage with the Interdepartmental Group on the Bioeconomy, chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach, helping to inform future consultations and a national bioeconomy policy statement for Ireland.